Why is the Seder Different?

This evening, at seders that will take place in every corner of the world, young children will chant the Four Questions: “Why is this night different?” Holding up the shank bone, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs, we will then tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt yet again. We will do so because we are commanded to do so: “You shall tell thy son. . . .” Yet that commandment alone cannot explain why the seder is the annual Jewish event most Jews attend. Why this night?

The seder is different because it does not only regale our triumphal deliverance from Egypt. At the seder, we also re-experience the story of our oppression by constructing an elaborate curriculum, with accompanying props, so each of us can more powerfully feel the suffering of bondage. Avadim hayinu. We were slaves. Many of us are inspired by Letty Cottin Pogrebin who has reframed our retelling of the story, challenging us to imagine what it was/is to be a slave so we may “stay connected to human suffering even after we have ceased to suffer.”

The seder is different because it is rooted in an event that took place thousands of years ago, yet it remains gripping and compelling, speaking to the collective challenges of our time. Millions throughout the world live under the burden of poverty, discrimination, and oppressive governments. Passover reminds both them and us that change is possible.

The seder is different because it is also deeply personal. Mitzrayim/Egypt is the narrow space and each year, at some point during my seder, I ask myself: “Where am I constricted? What steps do I need to take to live life more fully?”

The seder is different because we are each invited to retell, relive, and re-experience the historically decisive moment of our people — the Exodus from Egypt — so that today we can empathize with all who are suffering and live our lives more fully as human beings. For me, each year, it is a gift, a privilege, to gather with family and friends to experience this moment, at once epic and intimate.

I hope you and your loved one experience a joyous, meaningful, and powerful Passover. Let us celebrate spring and the renewal of life as we stretch our capacity to live more fully — personally and collectively.

Chag Sameach

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